When a mild-mannered musician quietly sits before you, it may sometimes be difficult to discern between him and the musician right beside him. Especially being that true musicians rely on authentic expression to leave an impression with an audience. And the irony here is that not only is Dr. Ben Redwine’s body of work inceptive, but he, himself is the epitome of discernment. Throughout his career, he has made a name for himself telling the difference between seemingly similar things and making intelligent judgements by using such observations. The dissection of genres, from European classical to ragtime jazz, and the influx of Latin interpretations may seem to meld together for the layperson. But for Ben, a student of all of these things, the practice of first breaking down elements to understand their components and origins, then rebuilding an original composition using his own vision is what enables him to enlightened us all. The sum of these parts can sometimes feel clumsy or unpalatable if not assembled correctly. But when composed precisely, spectators can walk away downright jolly. And for students of the art that wished to delve deeper, he shared of himself this knowledge instructing on a collegiate level for six years.
Peeling back the layers of Dr. Redwine brings us all the way to Del City, Oklahoma. Where, as a child, Ben would see students file in and out of his grandfather’s studio in the backyard. Both his grandfather and grandmother were professional orchestral musicians; his grandfather being the premier woodwind instructor in the Oklahoma City area. At the age of six, an anxious Ben was finally given the right of passage. From then on, you would find him at paw-paw’s house every Wednesday for dinner and a lesson. For Ben, the regimen would continue for the next thirteen years and exist strictly in the vein of classical compositions. Once in high school, Ben played in the school band. Wanting to explore alternate forms of the art, he also formed his own traditional jazz band. And although it wasn’t his grandfather’s chosen genre, he supported Ben’s exploratory nature, even buying him a book on Dixieland jazz. This was both an unconventional path and new territory for him being that memories of music being played in his household were few. At his grand parents’ house, classical music was played and read from sheet music to perform. The first jazz players did not follow the route Ben was taking; many of them did not read sheet music. Still, Ben feels his path prepared him for these next steps. “So, speaking from my perspective being classically trained, I always strive to get a great clarinet sound when I play. And my technique is, you know, fundamentally sound because I’ve put a lot of time in the practice room. Yeah. And then you, you veer off into jazz and those elements transfer over.” The foundation had become a launch pad for new ideas. For many musicians, exploring a new sound is an overall exciting experience. And for those that previously trek within the confines of traditional genres and music theory, improvisation can be like a second birth. Aside from the technical aspect, within the undertaking lies further finding and expressing one’s self, and strengthening the mind-audio connection in an instant. The affinity for spontaneity never left him as, during his educational and military pursuits, his probe into non-traditional forms would remain throughout the years.
From there he would study at the University of Oklahoma, earning his bachelor’s degree in music education. Ordinarily, the course of action from here would either be to teach or perform. At the time, orchestras were folding and often unreliable as a career. And Ben could read the writing on the wall. Though he would attend LSU earning a master’s degree in clarinet performance directly following his time at the University of Oklahoma, he decided to enter the United States Military music program, playing in the Army band for four years. In year three, he auditioned and won a job with the Naval Academy band in Annapolis, Maryland. Now this was a notable fork in direction. Because switching from one branch of military service to another is very uncommon. He would have to put himself through boot camp for a second time. Never the less, he succeeded, playing there for sixteen years until he retired in 2014. Also to note, towards the end of his Navy career, Ben took advantage of educational benefits and earned his doctorate in Washington, D.C. at Catholic University of America. While taking courses there, he served as Assistant Professor teaching music education. He also taught clarinet privately, and directed the university wind ensemble. Looking back on his decisions in life, I’d say Ben has always addressed life within the parameters of utility and foresight, even at the expense of traversing a path less travelled. He told me a story once about how he purchased CDs one by one, until he had a collection of twenty, all before owning a CD player. The pursuit of his passions was never dictated by what was readily available to him. And his decision to join the military was in-part a solution to retain benefits while also choosing performance over teaching. Though his move to audition for a separate military branch was both uncommon and physically taxing, it preserved his place in the performing arts. And those military benefits enabled him to earn a doctoral degree.
After retiring from the Navy in 2014, Ben continued teaching at Catholic University and playing gigs in the area. With family in Baton Rouge, he would frequently come down to Louisiana with his wife, Leslie. Eventually, it made sense to move to Louisiana and settle close enough to New Orleans to play gigs. And that’s not all he would go on to do. He performed with the Louisiana Philharmonic and Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestras. He was also featured at the historic Dew Drop Jazz and Social Hall, and at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. And he taught at Southern University and A&M College. Drawing from his minor in Latin-American music history, and his time playing on several continents throughout the course of his career, Ben has set his sights on an exciting new endeavor. A composer is writing a concerto for Ben to perform live. He envisions the performances set on stages here, as well as abroad. His time spent as an instructor will come into play, as he plans to give a spoken presentation on the history of jazz preceding the performance. And he hopes to be able to include several free performances for local schools within proximity to his performance dates. He is currently coordinating with a Louisiana non-profit to enable tax deductible crowd-funding. Anyone interested in donating resources to Ben’s concerto can contact him directly via his website, redwinejazz.com. You can also view his current performance schedule there and catch a show. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Ben. And I can’t close things out without mentioning how gracious he’s been, sending contacts and prospective clients my way. His knowledge is vast. His talent is enormous. And his contributions to the music world are immeasurable.